Megan F. Gambs and Adam Campbell: Climate Change and Catastrophes of the Distant Past
This week as the latest U.N. climate change summit gears up, the Philippine lead climate negotiator, Naderev "Yeb" Saño, has gone on hunger strike to demand action on climate change. The devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan on his country, called the most powerful storm in human history, is only the most recent example of increasingly catastrophic and frequent extreme weather events we see as human induced climate destabilization accelerates. The fact that this destabilization is happening and that it is human induced was never really in question. This, in spite of a massive multi-billion dollar propaganda campaign waged by powerful fossil fuel interests and the right wing think tanks, PR firms, and other propaganda mills (not to mention politicians) that they fund. This campaign has succeeded in keeping almost all discussion of the connections between these catastrophic events and anthropogenic climate change “out of sight –out of mind” in US corporate media for over 20 years. And on those occasions where discussion of the subject does arise, they make sure that it is always accompanied by the assertion that there is “doubt”; that there is a “debate”; that the science is not “settled”. But the science and anthropogenic nature of the current catastrophe has been settled and predicted for a long time. At this late date, only the most dangerously gullible, ill-informed, or purposefully ignorant among us could still be capable of falling for such a ruse. That wouldn’t include Pirate TV viewers because over the years, we’ve gone out of our way to feature leading bellwethers like Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, and Christian Parenti as well as many clean energy policy visionaries such as Arjun Makhijani and Amory Lovins. But we like to take it a step further and feature the voices of actual scientists –the “horse’s mouth”, so to speak. This would include scientists like Peter Ward, David Battisti, Phillip Mote, and David Wasdell…
In his book Under a Green Sky, the great paleontologist Peter Ward tells the story of how he unearthed the evidence that settled the scientific debate over what caused the many mass extinction events that delineate geologic time. All except one were caused by feedback dynamics of climate change that tipped the biosphere so far out of balance that most plant and animal species were driven to extinction. Some of these events were near total in their decimation of life on the planet.
We are in the midst of a mass extinction event right now, but it is not caused by prolonged volcanic activity. Let’s just be blunt: It is caused by corporate activity. So this week as the political hacks meet in Poland to fiddle as the planet burns (and floods), we’re going to talk about the science of climate change.
First up is Megan Gambs, a graduate student in the UW School of Oceanography who investigates how massive flooding of freshwater disrupts the ocean and atmosphere. To do this, she is studying the Missoula floods which occurred during the end of the most recent Ice Age, roughly 15,000 to 19,000 years ago. As many will know, Glacial Lake Missoula was held in place behind an ice dam roughly the height of four Space Needles. Periodically, the ice dam would weaken or falter, allowing catastrophic floods to sweep across the Northwest, then into the Pacific Ocean through the Columbia River, creating large geologic features in Eastern Washington such as the Channeled Scablands and Dry Falls.
This huge amount of fresh water entered the ocean all at once. Megan studies how this historically altered the climate both locally and globally. This is important information since massive amounts of fresh water are currently being injected into the ocean because of the melting of the ice caps. Next, UW researcher Adam Campbell talks about the Snowball Earth -what scientists think our Earth looked like 650 million years ago. Feedback dynamics work both ways. Most of the mass extinction events in Earth history occurred when greenhouse gasses caused feedbacks driving the climate to accelerate hotter and hotter until many life sustaining systems collapsed. 650 million years ago, conditions were right so that the climate feedbacks drove the planet to get colder and colder and there was nothing to stop it until the planet completely froze over. There is evidence that this may have happened more than once. While we know that photosynthetic, or light-loving, organisms such as plants and algae survived during these times, it’s not clear where they survived. UW researcher Adam Campbell searches for those refuges that sustained life when the Earth’s land was frozen and barren and its oceans totally blanketed in ice thousands of feet thick. Thanks to Seattle Town Hall and University Bookstore Watch Pirate Television in King County channel 29/77 Mondays 8-9pm, Thurs. 1-2pm, & Sun. 1-2am PST or streaming live on Seattle Community Media
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